TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 15: It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas—in the Eastern Orthodox Church, that is. Today begins the 40-day Nativity Fast, during which all able-bodied Orthodox Christians fast in preparation for Christ’s birth. While the Western Christian Advent lasts four weeks, the Eastern Nativity Fast lasts longer and includes primary abstinence from red meat, poultry, meat products, eggs, dairy, fish, oil and wine—with the exception of a few saint feast days and certain weekend days. (Wikipedia has details.)
FASTING WITH JOY
Most importantly, Orthodox Christians are asked to fast with joy, as they believe this behavior draws them closer to God. The Orthodox Church in America refers to this period as similar to saving one’s appetite before eating at an expensive restaurant: by not indulging before the “big feast,” one can more fully enjoy the meal of celebration. (Read more at OCA.org.)
SPECIAL SUNDAYS IN ORTHODOXY
The Nativity Fast may last 40 days, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t several stages of the fast—quite the contrary, in fact! Two Sundays before Nativity, the Church recalls the ancestors of Christ according to the flesh on the Sunday of the Forefathers; the Sunday before Nativity, all righteous men and women who pleased God, up through St. Joseph, are honored on the Sunday of the Holy Fathers. The Forefeast begins Dec. 20, during which Nativity hymns are chanted, and this ends on Dec. 24—just in time for Paramony, or Christmas Eve. (Get more specifics from the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.)
A strict fast from solid food is held on Paramony, until the first star is seen in the evening sky. Following Paramony, an All-Night Vigil is held and finally, on Christmas Day—the Nativity of Christ—Orthodox Christians indulge in an enormous meal and partake of several of the foods they have been fasting from for the past 40 days.
TRADITIONAL CHRISTMAS MARKETS ARE COMING
Beginning next week, Christmas will also be rung in across Europe, too: Christmas markets, abundant with handmade gifts, carolers, lights, holiday foods and more will be set up across the continent. One of the largest markets is in Cologne, Germany, (see photo above) with hundreds of stalls set up in front of the Cologne Cathedral—one of the most visited monuments in Germany. (Check out an article at TravelIntelligence.com.)